By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Mountain lion or coyote? That is the question, and one that likely will never be fully answered.

On one hand, Ray Bombardier contends, as do several of his acquaintances, that the animal in a photograph taken by a trail cam on land in Russell County is a mountain lion.

And on the other hand, Brad Odle, wildlife chief for the western third of the state for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, and several of his associates, disputes that notion. They were split on what the animal might be, but opinion came down to either a coyote or a fox.

The trail cam photo of the animal was presented to KDWP long before this month's discovery of a mountain lion northwest of WaKeeney. Photographs taken by a non-resident archery hunter in a tree stand was considered proof-positive that a mountain lion was present.

Bombardier's photograph didn't meet that threshold with KDWP.

His photograph was taken Aug. 20, and presented to Odle about a week later for analysis. Odle passed along the photo to a number of people within the state wildlife agency for their input.

They all said it was either a coyote or a fox, but no one said it might have been a cougar.

"It's not just me," Odle said of the prevailing opinion that it was not a mountain lion.

"He had convinced himself," Odle said of Bombardier's opinion of the photograph.

With help from friends and acquaintances, Bombardier counters.

"I think when he left we probably agreed to disagree," Odle said. "I gave him my professional opinion."

Odle said he is convinced the animal is a coyote.

"I've seen coyotes look like that," he said.

Size is part of the equation, as is the coloration of the fur, and enlarging the photo shows the nose extends down the body, Odle said.

"They sure look like canine ears," he contends.

The photo came to be when Bombardier was out switching out a trail cam because of a faulty flash.

When he started looking at the photos that were on the removed cam, he was astonished.

He started making some comparison measurements to determine the animal's size, eventually deciding that it was about 27 feet from the cam, in grass about 21 inches tall.

He thinks it would have been about 4 feet long if the animal would have had his head facing forward.

"When I went back and looked at it, to me there was no question what it was," he said.

Along the way, Bombardier showed the photograph to two veterinarians, both of whom, he said, refuted the notion that it was a canine.

That's when he took it to Odle.

"He said that's a fox," Bombardier said. "I said you better look again. He said it was a fox."

That disagreement prompted Odle to send it out to other KDWP personnel; meanwhile, Bombardier was lining up a number of people who agreed it was likely a mountain lion.

"I always thought it was a young one myself," he said of the animal being a mountain lion. "I never thought it was a full-grown animal."

Bombardier admits that he's frustrated over the response he's gotten from the photograph.

"I just feel the fish and game insulted my intelligence and all of my friends," he said.

"I knew when he left, he wasn't convinced," Odle said.